Guest blog by Sophie Mott, Carbon Farming Project Manager and Georgie Bray, Hope Farm Manager

Why are we interested in Carbon at Hope farm?

Recently, hard to read science underlined the ever-closing gap in our opportunity to halt the increase in temperature beyond 1.5 degrees. A shocking statistic, and that is without the full understanding of what this may mean for nature, where we live, and our ability to farm. Given all the above, it seems paramount that as farmers, we do everything within our ability to show a way of nature-friendly farming at net-zero – if that is possible.

At Hope Farm, we are working now to keep nature-friendly farming, whilst trying our utmost to get to carbon zero. From the point of purchasing Hope farm, we set out to learn how we can farm profitably whilst increasing the abundance of nature. From there, we have taken big steps into true integrated pest management techniques, improving our soil management, and are currently on the slow journey towards regenerative farming.

By demonstrating a way that works with nature to achieve carbon-friendly farming, we hope that it will help us to spread the word about what works and what doesn’t, at least in our context, and underline what support is needed to reduce the footprint in agriculture.

Agroforestry field at Hope farm growing spring oats around wildflower strips ready for tree establishment this winter (c) Sophie Mott

Of course, if we were to just look at Hope farm, that would be limited in its use to more lowland arable farms on clay soils. However, if we are to make a difference across the ¾ of UK farmland, and really make a difference to the carbon footprint we produce on a wide scale, then we need to think much bigger than that. This is why we have started a Carbon Farming Project, to look at opportunities to execute carbon friendly farming measures not just at Hope Farm, but other farming systems across the UK too.

What is the Carbon Farming Project?

There are four main stems of work that are outlined for the carbon farming project. Core aims of all of these tasks together are to increase the knowledge in ways that we are able to record and reduce our carbon footprint with as much accuracy as we can muster, and to see how these methods impact biodiversity.

Here are the core pieces of work that we’ll be producing over the next two years:

  • A review of the three front-runner tools being used widely across the UK, looking at the underlying protocols, scope, identification of gaps in knowledge and links to biodiversity benefits
  • Case studies on the reviewed carbon-auditing tools and suitability to different farming systems
  • Identification of climate measures for Hope Farm that will help to reduce our carbon footprint, whilst fulfilling our farm goal to maintain nature-friendly and sustainable farming
  • Agroforestry at Hope Farm to identify the impact of agroforestry on biodiversity, soil health, crop yields and farm profit

Example of agroforestry at Wakelynns Farm (c) Sophie Mott

What have we achieved so far?

So far, the research that will underpin the literature review is underway, with Sophie Mott appointed as our carbon farming manager. She has also been key to the planning of our agroforestry project, where all the planning is geared towards a productive 3D farming system, that should be nature-positive.

Near to our agroforestry field, is a control field that will have the same cropping rotation, and same monitoring but without the trees in place, so that we can compare any changes taking into account real time variables such as bad weather years

We are already setting baseline figures for birds, butterflies, soil invertebrates, bats, hedgerow and in field above ground invertebrate species, soil nutrients, soil carbon and crop yield. we will continue to measure the crop yield change at distances from the trees as they grow.

The strips have already been sown with wildflowers for the trees to be planted into this winter. So we are not taking land out of production, but changing the kind of production coming from this field. We are planting Kentish cobnut and apple cropping trees, sandwiched between native shelter belt trees to provide a wind break. The apples will go to make juice and cobnuts for oil eventually, but for the time being we are just looking for ways that we can sustainably get the trees in the ground and well protected so that we can start harvesting in five years time.

This is a huge investment for a 180ha farm, putting 1300 trees in a field that is 11ha in size. Hopefully, the thinking that has gone behind this project, and the outcomes of it, will go towards future similar agroforestry projects across the country so that they can also serve best for carbon-zero and nature-positive farming.

This blog post was originally posted from the RSPB's farming blog.

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